In previous years (and decades), beauty products relied on splashy marketing claims that advertised the ability for a product to do what it claimed e.g. 2X shinier hair, look ten years younger, helps boost collagen production, softer skin or your money back. In the past few years the ‘natural’ cosmetic trend began circling the beauty market with claims like: ‘all natural’, ‘chemical free’, ‘organic’, ‘plant based’, ‘green’, and ‘eco-friendly’. As stated in a previous article “Are you guilty of the ‘Appeal to Nature’ Fallacy?”, the term ‘Natural’ is not recognised by any countries consumer watchdog as a meaningful cosmetic term. In other words it means nothing, and in some cases is a downright lie.
Now enter the new heavy-weight marketing term: ‘Clean Beauty’. What does ‘Clean beauty’ mean?
According to Goop, the doyen of all things woo, and the possible progenitors of this scare tactic, refer to ‘clean beauty’ as: “non-toxic products without a long, ever-evolving list of ingredients linked to harmful effects”. They claim the beauty industry is unregulated… Ummm… Ever heard of the FDA, Gooop? Or the European Commission (EC). Even though Guup calls American cosmetic regulation a “free-for-all” and companies “can do whatever they want” they are right about one thing, what is advertised on the package doesn’t mean squat. Including your products Gooooop. They don’t specify this alarmingly long list of no nos but they do poo poo the following: parabens, phthalates, PEGs, ethanolamines, chemical sunscreens, synthetic fragrance, BHT, BHA. Just off the top of my head I can refute the vast majority of this list with real science, it’s not murky, as they claim, Parabens, for example, are a plant derived preservative used in the form of p-hydroxybenzoic acid (PHBA) and have been proven NOT to disrupt hormones and in the vastly small (but effective) quantities they are used, they pose no threat to human use and are one of the most effective preservative systems to date 1. Chemical sunscreens are very effective, safe and highly recommended by dermatologists along with other chemical or synthetic sunscreens. BHAs are awesome! They keep my super oily, congestion-prone skin in tip top shape and I recommend them to anyone with oily or blemish prone skin without hesitation.
Gerp aside, the general consensus is that the ‘clean beauty’ movement refers to products that do not contain ‘bad’ or ’harmful’ ingredients. Good old Sephora has jumped on the hype bandwagon and have their own ‘Clean at Sephora’ line of make-up and skin care absent of:
- Sulfates: SLS & SLES
- Mineral Oil
- Formaldehyde-releasing agents
- Retinyl Palmitate
- Coal Tar
- Undisclosed Synthetic Fragrances* Synthetic fragrances allowed providing they meet all of the above criteria AND certify they comply with our Clean Fragrance criteria below.
Again, this list contains a bunch of unfounded fear-mongering and most can be disputed with a myriad of scientific evidence. Some of the ingredients listed here such as phthalates, formaldehyde, and coal tar are not used today in cosmetic products unless you bought them 20 years ago or from the dollar store. I have seen formaldehyde (a known carcinogen) listed in a nail lacquer in years past from such a store but you won’t find it in such brands OPI or Essie in 2019.
If you’ve read my article on “Why There is Nothing Wrong with (Some) Supermarket Shampoos”, you’ll know where I stand on SLS and SLES. Just for the record SLSs and ALSs are the stricter more oil stripping detergents, SLESs and SLEAs are gentler version of their cousins. Neither will cause cancer or make you have three headed babies but there is some evidence to suggest they are allergens and sensitisers and at the very least can strip your hair colour quicker than gentler detergents.
Mineral Oil is not bad. People who are scientifically illiterate think that if it comes from a scary sounding derivative is must be bad for you. Mineral oil is naturally derived from petroleum. According to the International Journal of Cosmetic Science and the European Journal of Ophthalmology it is completely safe, soothing, moisturising, non-sensatising, and beneficial for the skin and hair 2.
Formaldehyde releasing agents are an antimicrobial/anti-fungal preservative used in hair care products, that slowly release formaldehyde into the product as it decomposes. They are considered by some sources to be known sensitisers or allergens, specifically : DMDM hydantoin, Imidazolidinyl urea, Diazolidinyl urea, Quaternium-15, Bronopol, 5-Bromo-5-nitro-1,3-dioxane, Sodium hydroxymethylglycinat. However, all of these ingredients except Bronopol have been verified safe by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) 3.
Retinyl Palmitate is actually an excellent antioxidant combined of Vitamin A (Retinol) and fatty acids. It’s also found naturally in our skin to provide some protection from UV radiation 4.
Oxybenzone is a popular synthetic sunscreen ingredient that protects your skin from UVB and some UVA radiation. It has not been proven to destroy coral reefs or human skin, in fact it is a good ingredient to protect your skin.
Hydroquinone is best known as a skin pigmentation lightening ingredient and also as an antioxidant, fragrance ingredient and an oxidising agent in hair tints (dyes) and several other cosmetics. It has been found by the CIR on several occasions to be safe for use in quantities less than 1% and can be obtained over the counter. If you want to read more about this highly effective skin lightening ingredient more information can be found here: https://www.paulaschoice.com/expert-advice/skincare-advice/brown-spots-and-discolorations/hydroquinone-for-skin-lightening.html
Triclosan is a broad spectrum antimicrobial and a preservative in water based consumer products. In 2016 the FDA banded the marketing of such products containing Triclosan as it did not feel it met their safety standards, however, both the European Commission (EC), Canada and Japan have allowed it as a preservative in concentrations less than 0.3%, 0.03% and 0.10% respectively, and are used in toothpastes, hand soaps, body wash, deodorants and nail products with varying percentages 5. NICNAS in Australia have limited the use of Triclosan in cosmetics to 0.3% and disclose it is most harmful to aquatic life, but not human life.
Triclocarb is in a similar boat to Triclosan, an antimicrobial and preservative that is banned from marketing by the FDA but the EC permitted for use in rinse off products as a preservative at 0.2% and as a non-preservative at 1.2% 6.
As for synthetic fragrances, if you’ve read my other articles you’ll know I’m not much of a fan. Years of working as a make-up artist has made me weary of fragrance in cosmetics as it can be one of most sensitising ingredients for almost anyone, but especially for those with sensitive or broken skin. If it doesn’t bother you, keep using it, if it does, don’t use products containing synthetic fragrance.
The other ingredient I’m surprised is not in either of these ‘lists’ is silicone. Silicone has gotten a bad wrap in recent years. I don’t know where the controversy has come from, but I see it on products all the time ‘silicone free’. Why? Can anyone tell me why? Seriously, I’ll pay you, I won’t really 😉 Silicones are one of the most useful, non-sensitising, vegan/cruelty-free (just in case that stirs your cockles), and moisture retaining ingredients one can put in a cosmetic formulation. It’s derived from silica (sand) and is the second most abundant element on the Earth’s crust besides oxygen. It is inert (meaning they are non-reactive – great for sensitive skin) and are widely used in almost 13,000 products across the US including medical devices and preparations, cleansing agents of all kinds even baby shampoos and as a food additive.
As a hair and make-up artist I have seen the wonders of silicones in cleansing products, hair conditioners and treatments, make-up and tools. I can verify they are not bad for you and are only beneficial in cosmetic products. Caroline Hirons, a qualified aesthetician, wrote an excellent and comprehensive article on her blog about silicones and I couldn’t agree more. Please take the time to check it out if you want more information: https://www.carolinehirons.com/2019/08/beauty-myths-no-21-silicones-ad.html?fbclid=IwAR0o_FD0uYXcJZi1sik3UxTXPEkRL7JCX7O6z38b0zu4LNt7PsL8laBRdJM.
After that autopsy of these ‘Clean Beauty’ shenanigans my take away is that most of it is hogwash and it potentially damaging to sound working ingredients that are not in any way harmful to human use.
Why has it come about? Consumerism, plain and simple. Beauty companies benefit financially from scare tactics and fear-mongering consumers into buying more products. You loved your old moisturiser we made? Beware! It has bad, dirty mineral oil in it! Throw it away, even though you still have heaps left and it was working just great. You need this new ‘clean’ moisturiser! On that point, Allure magazine stated unironically in an article from April 2019, “These days there’s a clean option to switch out every product in your makeup routine, so it’s never been easier to avoid controversial ingredients.” What better way to pi$$ away $500 bucks than to replace every cosmetic item you own!
Who else benefits? Magazines aimed at 20-30 something beauty hoarders. You’ll buy the magazine to see what this ‘new’ information says. Beauty influencers that don’t have brain cell to blindly scratch themselves will hawk if it gets them click$$$. Everyone involved and surrounding this trend will make money proffering off of your fear that you are doing some undisclosed damage to yourself.
- ‘Clean Beauty’ is a movement in the beauty industry that omits ingredients certain charlatans … ah hem… companies deem ‘harmful’ or ‘bad’
- Many of the ingredients hallmarked are NOT harmful, some are not even used and others are beneficial to skin and hair
- Silicones are beneficial ingredients in cosmetic products and widely used across medicine and cosmetics
- ‘Clean Beauty’ is a marketing ploy to get you buy more
- Only beauty industry peeps will benefit from this trend
- Good, well formulated products with these ingredients may suffer under the guise of “we only have your health in our hearts”
What is your opinion? Did you learn anything new? Do you now think a little differently about an ingredient you have heard negative press about? Are you regretting your recent splurge at Sephora and are currently eating two minute noodles? Let me know in the comments below!